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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 00:00 GMT
A&E units facing drug pressures
A&E sign
Casualty staff 'would benefit from more training in helping drug users'
Up to a million visits to English A&E departments every year could be linked to illegal drug use, researchers claim.

Researchers from the University of the West of England based their estimate on anonymous interviews with 800 patients at a city casualty unit in one week.

In 7% of cases, doctors said the visit was linked to illegal drug use, the Emergency Medicine Journal study said.

The researchers say their study also suggests drugs could be linked to 400,000 hospital admissions a year.

A&E staff need more training in dealing with illegal drug users, rather than having to learn on the job
Professor John Henry, St Mary's Hospital, London

The study found over a third (36%) of those interviewed admitted to having used illicit drug use at some time during their lives, with 16% saying they had used drugs within the previous month.

Almost one in 10 said they had taken drugs in within the previous 24 hours.

Twenty-three patients - 3% of those interviewed - had to be admitted to hospital because of reasons such as self harm, skin infections, chest pain and deep vein thrombosis.

Tetanus risk

Writing in Emergency Medicine, the researchers led by Dr Jonathan Benger said: "Health problems related to illegal drug use are well recognised, but are difficult to quantify, as social circumstances make drug users difficult to identify and engage in research."

They add: "With annual emergency department attendances currently exceeding 14 million in England alone, it is possible that illegal drugs contribute directly or indirectly to one million ED attendances and 400,000 acute hospital admissions in England each year."

Dr Martin Shalley, president of the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine, told the BBC News website illegal drug use did have a significant impact on A&E departments.

"A lot of the problems are related to overdoses from illegal drugs, infections - and even tetanus, which is being seen in heroin and crack cocaine users being cut with mud."

Dr Shalley said drug misusers could also become violent while they were being treated.

He called for departments to have dedicated drug support workers, who could support patients and staff.

Professor John Henry, an A&E consultant at St Mary's Hospital, London, added: "This is a bigger problem than people imagine.

"A&E staff need more training in dealing with illegal drug users, rather than having to learn on the job."


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